(from left) 2009 Alumnus of the Year Else Shepherd, AM, 2009 International Alumnus of the Year Thi Ngoc Diep Nguyen and 2009 Young Alumnus of the Year Dr Catherine Schuetze
(from left) 2009 Alumnus of the Year Else Shepherd, AM, 2009 International Alumnus of the Year Thi Ngoc Diep Nguyen and 2009 Young Alumnus of the Year Dr Catherine Schuetze
24 November 2009

Powerlink Chair and the first woman to graduate from electrical engineering at UQ, Else Shepherd, AM, is the University's Alumnus of the Year for 2009.

Ms Shepherd is in the first trio of women to win UQ alumni of the year awards in the same year – the others being sanitation expert Thi Ngoc Diep Nguyen (International Alumnus of the Year), and animal welfare advocate, Dr Catherine Schuetze (Young Alumnus of the Year).

UQ Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Greenfield and Alumni Friends of The University of Queensland Inc. Senior Vice-President Patricia Jones hosted the 2009 Courting the Greats lunch to recognise the winners at Customs House today, Thursday, November 26.

Professor Greenfield said UQ was honoured by a wealth of exceptional graduates, who reflected their strength on to the University and the students who followed them.

"Graduates such as Else, Thi and Catherine honour UQ by their contributions to communities, industry and their nations' social and economic development," he said.

This is the seventh year of UQ giving the three awards.

"In 2002, all three winners were male, and given the equally important contributions of women it is no surprise to have three female winners in one year," Professor Greenfield said.

Ms Shepherd was inspired to pursue a career in engineering by the 1957 launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik. After attending Brisbane Girls Grammar School, she began studying electrical engineering at UQ from 1962, graduating in 1965.

She married and went to live in Mackay for the next 18 years, working at the Sugar Research Institute as an operation research engineer for 10 years and raising two children.

By the end of 1983, she moved back to Brisbane and in 1986, formed Mosaic Information Technology, a company specialising in the design and manufacture of telecommunications products, particularly custom-designed modems. In 2002, she co-developed a new company, Microwave & Materials Designs, specialising in microwave filters for mobile phones.

In 1994, Ms Shepherd was appointed to her current position as Chair of Powerlink – a new company set up by the Queensland Government to oversee the State's electricity transmission system following the break-up of the Queensland Electricity Commission (QEC).

Powerlink owns, develops, operates and maintains Queensland's $3 billion, 1700km high-voltage electricity transmission network.

Ms Shepherd has previously described her leadership style as "by example" as she and other board members make time to interact with staff at a variety of events.

One of the key skills she says she needed to develop in her role as Chair was communication "hearing and tolerating other people's perspectives, particularly from those with non-technical backgrounds. At times it was a challenge to let go of "the engineer's approach to problem-solving", she has said previously.

Ms Shepherd is a firm believer in workplace flexibility, having worked both full- and part-time while raising her two children at a time when married women with children in the workplace were generally frowned upon by Australian society.

For her contributions to engineering, education and the electricity generating industry, Shepherd was appointed a Member in the General Division of the 2003 Queen's Birthday Honours List.

She is also a trained musician (piano) with vast experience as a choral conductor and director of arts organisations. She received a Graduate Diploma in Music from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music in 1984.

As a member of Engineers Australia's Accreditation and National Industry Liaison Board, Ms Shepherd is keen to see increasing public awareness of the role engineers play in society. She sees interdisciplinary collaboration, for example the early take-up by engineering professionals of recent developments in quantum physics and materials science, as an opportunity to enhance the standing and contribution of the profession.

She also sits on the National Electricity Market Management Company (NEMMCO) Board, the Brisbane City Works Advisory Board and the International Electrotechnical Commission Council Board.

Her attachment to The University of Queensland is of long standing. Her father, Professor Otto Budtz-Olsen, was Head of the Physiology Department for many years, while her mother, Molly Budtz-Olsen, was Principal of Women's College and a member of the University Senate.

Alumni Friends of The University of Queensland Inc. President Dalma Jacobs said the Alumni Friends were honoured Ms Shepherd had accepted the award of Alumnus of the Year for 2009.

She said Ms Shepherd was certainly a pioneer and role model in breaking through the barriers to women's professional acceptance particularly in "non-traditional" fields such as engineering. Ms Shepherd was highly admired as a "Woman in Leadership" through her professional achievements, as a married woman with children working in the 60s and 70s and through her high-profile volunteer work in the arts, especially music, Ms Jacobs said.

The International Alumnus of the Year Award was introduced in 2002 to recognise the outstanding personal and professional achievements of the University's international alumni community. The criteria of the award considers contributions to the community and career achievements since graduating.

Ms Nguyen, who graduated with a Master of Social Planning and Development (Professional) from UQ in 2002 after completing her undergraduate studies in Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, previously worked as a consultant to the Belgian Technical Cooperation on a project contributing to better sanitation and therefore quality of life for people living in the Tan Hoa Lo Gom Canal area in Ho Chi Minh City.

She studied at UQ under a full scholarship of The Atlantic Philanthropies Coursework Masters Scholarship Program funded by The Atlantic Foundation (United States) and administered by The University of Queensland and Vietnam National University.

Since graduating from UQ, she has also worked as a social support consultant for Black & Veatch International (BVI), Phuoc Hoa Water Resources Project, Vietnam, transferring surplus flow from the Song Be River to provide additional water in the Saigon and Vam Co Dong river basins for development of irrigated agriculture and to supplement existing supplies for salinity control and Domestic, Municipal, and Industrial (DMI) use in Ho Chi Minh City and the surrounding provinces.

Nominees for UQ's Young Alumnus of the Year must be under the age of 40 and are judged on their post-graduation career achievements and future plans, innovation and creativity, involvement within their communities and how their career achievements have benefited the community.

Dr Schuetze, who graduated with a Bachelor of Veterinary Biology from UQ in 1993 and a Bachelor of Veterinary Science in 1995, has since devoted her life and career to the cause of animal welfare. She founded and is the current President of VetCharityOrg (now known as Vets Beyond Borders), and lives in India.

She spends her time developing strategic partnerships with governments, animal welfare organisations and NGOs and has helped establish several animal welfare programs in India with a focus on national dog health, population management and rabies control.

She has worked with wildlife and domestic animals in veterinary practice in different countries (Africa, United Kingdom, India, Australia) over the past 14 years, in both employed and voluntary capacities.

Media: Andrew Quek, UQ Advancement Office, on 3346 3086; Patricia Jones, Senior Vice-President, Alumni Friends of The University of Queensland Inc, on 3355 0506 or 0407 583 148; or Shirley Glaister at UQ Communications on 3365 1931 or 0438 129 083).